Children as young as five understand the sadness of being lonely, and how it nudges them to connect with others.
The Office for National Statistics, in 2018, interviewed people aged 10 to 24 years. They found the young participants understood loneliness and described it as being disconnected from others, a sense of exclusion, and unhappiness with the relationships.
“Some days I just can’t get out of bed. I just don’t seem to have any energy. Those days I don’t want to see or meet anyone. All I want to do is to stay in and sulk by myself.” — 13 years
Does Being Alone Cause Depression?
There is a two-way relationship between loneliness and depression. Loneliness may lead to depression or the other way around, shows research. Both may occur together; however, the mechanisms behind this complex interdependence between them are largely unclear.
Loneliness and depression influence each other reciprocally (Cacioppo, Hughes, Waite, 2006). It means that people who already feel lonely are more likely to become depressed, and already present depression can worsen one’s loneliness.
Sometimes, the fear of loneliness can trigger anxiety and depression, which can worsen the feelings of isolation and cause even more loneliness.
Both depression and loneliness originate from a sense of isolation and emotional loss. Together, they aggravate the process of self-isolation and social alienation.
Studies show that loneliness increases the risk of becoming depressed (Sjöberg, Stling, Falk, 2013; Stessman, Rottenberg, Shimshilashvili, 2014). It also worsens depressive symptoms in people who are already depressed (Wang, Mann, Lloyd-Evans, 2018). (Cacioppo, Hughes, Waite, 2006).
Loneliness is described as an unpleasant emotional state caused by a perceived gap between desired and existing social relationships.
Loneliness is a subjective experience that reduces our well-being, and it has links to social isolation, alienation, social connectivity, a sense of belonging, social capital, and psychological safety.
Loneliness differs from solitude in that loneliness is a negative experience, whereas solitude reflects a desire to be alone and is often a positive experience. It is also different from social isolation, which is an objective measure of a lack of social contacts, though both have links with depression (Ge, Yap, Ong, & Heng, 2017).
As per population-based surveys, loneliness has a U-shaped age distribution, with high rates of loneliness among young adults and the elderly (Lasgaard, Friis, & Shevlin, 2016).
How Common Is Depression
According to World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the third leading cause of disease worldwide, and its presence continues to increase globally. The WHO predicts it will rank at number one by 2030.
Almost 40% of depressed people get their first episode of depression before the age of 20, with prevalence increasing in the second and third decades of life.
Loneliness is most common among young adults, according to available data. Surprisingly, these lonely people do spend no less time with others than those who are not lonely.
Lonely & Depressed Young Adults
Our young people are lonely. Some of them had bullied childhoods, some have low self-esteem, and yet others have had long periods of low mood. All of these put them at a high risk of severe depression.
The accompanying depression makes them feel even more lonely, as it amplifies their insecurities and erodes their confidence to make social connections.
The worst part is when their closest friends no longer swing by to see how they’re doing or even to ask, “What’s wrong with you?”
We know that young people are more likely than other age groups to be lonely, and they are also more likely to be depressed.
• This research suggests that depressed people engage in specific behaviors (like withdrawing and not confiding) for a range of reasons. This can be the reason for their feelings of loneliness, which worsens their mood, and perpetuates their depression.
• In this survey, the young adults reported feeling lonely and isolated twice as many days as the late middle-age adults, despite having larger social networks.
• Studies on young people reveal that social isolation in childhood predicts loneliness in young adulthood (Matthews, Danese, Caspi, 2019).
• Persistent peer-related loneliness in childhood predicts adolescent depression (Maes, Van den Noortgate, Fustolo-Gunnink, 2017; van Winkel, Wichers, Collip, 2017).
• Loneliness in young people is also likely to make it more difficult for them to access formal or informal mental health care. They frequently carry the stigma of mental illness and a reluctance to open up about their feelings or emotions (Salaheddin & Mason, 2016).
“I can’t talk to them about my sadness because they’ll start judging me (as weak) and then avoid me.”
Some depressed persons may feel lonely and isolated because they do not want to socialize with others because they believe they have nothing in common with them or that their thoughts and feelings will be harshly judged.
Loneliness and depression, when combined, make it difficult to connect with others, even when there is a strong desire to do so. This is frequently due to a fear of rejection, according to the interpersonal hostility theory of loneliness. There can also be a concern to not overburden their friends.
“I don’t want to bother anybody with my worries.”
According to behavioral genetic studies, lonely young persons are often also depressed, partly, because the same genes influence loneliness and depression (Social isolation, loneliness, and depression in young adulthood).
Lonely young adults are also more likely to have been bullied and socially isolated as youngsters. These are known risk factors for depression.
Young people are frequently trapped in a vicious cycle of loneliness and depression. Even when early intervention could help them break the cycle, many of them reject it.
When reached out, these lonely and depressed youngsters often do not respond positively. Even when caring people ask them if they want to talk about their thoughts and feelings, they often quip, “No, I’m fine.”
This response comes from a belief that the other person would not understand what they are going through, or that the other person has some ulterior motive.
Many believe that loneliness leads to depression. However, it’s not that simple or easy to say which comes first — loneliness or depression. Researchers say they both have a complex relationship and one can lead to the other, although the line between them appears blurred.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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